Rush to vaccinate citizens by rich countries leaves much of the world awaiting coronavirus vaccines

TORONTO — As vaccines rollout across Canada, and we watch other nations getting their shots, there is a collective exhale.

At backyard bonfires and in grocery store lines people are buzzing with new hope that the COVID-19 vaccines will be the weapons to win this war.

The early results look promising. While limited scientific data is still raising questions, including how long the vaccines will protect us, vaccines that have won approval in record time, are so far, proving to be safe and effective.

Yet so far, only about 30 nations have received the precious vials of hope. The rest of the world is at the back of the line.

This is where COVAX comes in, an initiative launched in April 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission and France in response to the pandemic.

The COVAX goal is to have 2 billion doses of vaccines available by the end of 2021 for countries that otherwise can’t secure them on their own.

So far, there are over 90 countries that will be supported, including most African countries. The program has been described as a lifeline for lower income funded nations and countries that have no bilateral deals with manufacturers.

With two-thirds of the world engaged, this promise has the potential to level the playing field when it comes to stopping COVID-19.

Dr. Allison McGeer is an infectious disease expert at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, and understands the importance of stopping the spread. She says, “It’s going to take an effort of will on the part of all of us to be willing to share vaccines and to be willing to make sure that we make vaccines accessible to everybody.”

More than 10-billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been pre-ordered from the frontrunners in the vaccine race. Half of these doses are currently promised to 27 member states of the European Union together with just five other rich countries. Canada is top of the list.

In the earliest days of this pandemic, in April 2020, Bill Gates submitted a paper to the New England Journal of Medicine sending a strong message:

“During a pandemic, vaccines and antivirals can’t simply be sold to the highest bidder,” wrote Gates. “They should be available and affordable for people who are at the heart of the outbreak and in greatest need. Not only is such distribution the right thing to do, it’s also the right strategy for short-circuiting transmission and preventing future pandemics.”

Canada’s Procurement Minister, Anita Anand, worked with her team to secure 414 million doses for Canada. That’s 10 doses per person and the most per capita in the world.

She responded to the big overspend, saying, “I want to be clear that while we have secured the highest number of doses per capita of any country in the world, at the same time we are committed to COVAX.

“We’ve been conscious that an effective vaccine in one country is not useful if the rest of the world can’t be vaccinated. And so we want to make sure that we are sharing our vaccines insofar as that is possible.”

Canada’s giveback to COVAX will be measured over time, our leftovers might not be pledged until we have enough for our own immunization targets, which would see Canadians protected by the end of 2021.

So while Canada might complete vaccinations by next year, it’s very possible that low and middle income countries will only start receiving vaccines by fall 2021, meaning eradicating the disease might not be possible and global vaccination efforts could continue well past 2023.

The danger is an ongoing risk of spread. Without getting vaccines to all corners of the earth, the SARS COV-2 virus will continue to live, mutate, infect and kill. Dr. Allison McGeer says the decision is ours,

“I’m really hoping that globally will be able to say this is one world and yes we have an interest in protecting ourselves, but we also have an interest in protecting everybody who lives in the world because it’s that interest that makes us human beings,“ she said.

Watch W5’s documentary ‘Seeking Immunity’ on Saturday at 7 p.m. on CTV

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